When Nickolas Strong was six years old, his father left the picture. As his mother worked three jobs to provide for their family, Nickolas was brought up by his grandmother, a strong woman who had been involved in the creation of the first atomic bomb. Her love of science inspired Nickolas to have a better understanding of the complexity of life.
After his brother Tyler passed away, Nickolas realized he had to break free from the chains of his reality. Having dropped out of high school at fifteen, he began his professional career in logistics — specifically, in truck driving. He worked with UPS for multiple years, during which time he also got married, and his wife joined him in the trucking business. Together, they spent long stretches on the road, splitting the driving time.
“The hours were long,” said Nickolas. “But no matter how difficult the work was, it took me further and further away from my childhood experiences. It gave me a foothold on my life and the ability to support myself legally.”
Finding a New Passion
Spending twelve hours on the road was often tedious, so Nickolas started passing the time with Audible, an online audiobook platform. He was particularly drawn to a weekly science podcast called “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.” When the podcast’s host mentioned the Great Courses, an online learning platform offering courses in topics ranging from psychology to technology, Nickolas began devouring these lectures.
“My passion for science led to my interest in the theory of emergence — the idea that something is born out of something else,” he said. “Technology can also be applied to the theory of emergence. Systems are built on top of one another, which helps to create and develop civilizations.”
Although Nickolas enjoyed learning new lessons, he began to feel like a prisoner in his truck. Before long, he started wondering how he could use his knowledge to contribute more to society. A friend suggested exploring the field of cybersecurity, and Nickolas was immediately sold. Eager to gain new skills, he enrolled in Vanderbilt University Cybersecurity Boot Camp and awaited his first day of class.
“Cybersecurity leverages all aspects of who I am,” he said. “I wanted to apply it to logistics, specifically autonomous trucking, to create efficiency at every point in the process. Cybersecurity is extremely important when looking at what it can mean for countries and the world at large.”
Back to the Basics
Although he’d gained conceptual skills during his on-the-road lectures, Nickolas had no technical ability before the boot camp. He convinced his roommate, Joshua Lewis, to enroll in the program with him, and together, the pair dove into the learning process.
Then, COVID-19 struck — and the boot camp curriculum, which was originally built for a physical classroom, swiftly migrated online.
“We used Zoom to communicate and created an online study group with the other students,” said Nickolas. “The live lectures and feedback from teachers were amazing. We had a Slack channel that helped keep us engaged with the course content, and used applications like Kazoot to make classes more interactive and fun.”
Going the Extra Mile
During his time in the boot camp, Nickolas had many “eureka” moments. One standout memory was when he was asked to hack a machine. Instead of following the instructions, he managed to hack the system through his own means, surprising his teachers with a completely original approach.
It was no surprise that Nickolas graduated from the boot camp with a 4.0 GPA. In addition, both he and his roommate were offered teaching assistant jobs at Trilogy Education Services — and this is only the start of Nickolas’s journey.
Looking back, it’s incredible to see the progress Nickolas has made. From listening to podcasts in his truck to completing a cybersecurity boot camp, he has never lost the drive for self-improvement. Nickolas is a prime example that anything is possible with motivation — no matter your life circumstances.
“People often create stereotypes of truck drivers as people in dead-end jobs,” said Nickolas. “The expertise I gained from the boot camp was invaluable. I want to prove that it’s possible to do something more than what is expected of you. Nothing in life is impossible. Everything is probable. What you choose to do simply increases those odds.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: After this article was originally published, Nickolas went on to become a cloud security automation administrator for a risk management and compliance software company, as well as a senior tutor and TA for 2U-powered cybersecurity boot camps.
Fancy increasing your odds? Join Vanderbilt University Cybersecurity Boot Camp today.
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